Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Naming Aliens

Naming Aliens

I stumbled into writing SFR by accident. Well, through a dream to be honest. This humanoid alien was walking through a forest, saying one word over and over and over. Turned out he was saying his name, and his story was all about him refusing to be what others wanted him to be, and to be worthy of the name he was given.

If A'yen was human, he'd look like this guy.
Tom Weston-Jones. From my Pinterest.
His name? A’yen. I have no idea where it came from. As I was playing the dream in my head he revealed to me his species name. Loks Mé. Yes, the accent mark is pronounced like it would be in French. I live in Louisiana and have a historical romance with a French Creole character. I was still very much immersed in French vocabulary and language rules when A’yen walked into my head.

My space opera series is called A’yen’s Legacy. It’s all about his name, and a very important discovery that their last king—who made the decision to surrender to the humans—was also named A’yen.

As the world expanded, and more Loks Mé showed up, I realized I needed naming rules and to decide what types of names I wanted to use. Clearly names with apostrophes were common among my alien species. I also discovered very quickly the meaning of names is important to them.

You see, they’re slaves. Forbidden to read human languages, and they’ve fought to retain their own. Their names have become the only identifying mark they have, and even names are taken from them sometimes.

I knew I wanted my names pronounceable without a lot of thinking about it. One complaint I have about some fictional aliens is that, while the name may look cool on paper, it’s damn near impossible to say. Since I read out loud in my head I “hear” the words as I’m reading. Stumbling over pronunciation breaks my enjoyment of the story. (Thank you, Sherrilyn Kenyon, for the pronunciation on the character pages of your website!)

The apostrophes are seen mostly in male names. Most women have names that end in “a”. In Russian and other Slavic languages female names always end in “a”. And, uhm, I have this thing for Russia . . . It’s kind of all-consuming and never fails to set my imagination on fire. But Russian names are very recognizable so I consciously decided not to use them.

When I started on the second book in my space opera series I ended up with a ton of new Loks Mé characters. I began figuring out there were naming conventions for siblings too. The main secondary character in the second book is named Da’Ro. He’s the youngest of three, and his siblings names are Da’Rhys and Da’Renna.

In the third book we meet Taran. Come to find out he has a twin named Ta’reel. From there I discovered twins always start with the same letter, and the older twin always has an apostrophe name. Still don’t know why, but it’s pretty cool to me.

About this time I was also inhaling Torchwood, and reading a historical set in 9th century Wales. I’m also a longtime fan of Ioan Griffudd, and yes I know how to say it right. When the third book came out and I had even more characters to name I started looking at lists of Welsh names.

And wouldn’t you know it, they fit! They have the slightly exotic sound I’m after, and have the benefit of not being names most people are familiar with. With a little tweaking, and an apostrophe here and there, I have dozens of names to choose from, and lists to chew over to come up with new ones.

Creating my naming rules has led me to beautiful names (in my opinion) like A’yen, Na’var, Kynan, Sa’nar, and Arrin. These are all men, and they’re important in the story. Some of the important women are Mara, Tala, Yanna, Senna, and Meenta. Kynan, Mara, Yanna, and Senna are real names used on planet Earth. But they’re not common and have the sound I was going for.

Alien names don’t have to be off-putting, or impossible to pronounce. I think this is an important point, especially for authors like me who are trying to pull romance readers in, as opposed to science fiction readers. Unpronounceable alien names are a barrier easily removed, without sacrificing any imagination or exotic sounds.

Rachel Leigh Smith is a romance writer, a geek, and a Southern belle. She lives in Louisiana with a half-crazed calico named Zoe. When not adding words to an SFR novel she’s reading paranormal romance or crafting while watching some type of SF on TV. She’s still unpublished, but hopefully not for long. She also blogs sporadically at www.rachelleighsmith.com and hangs out on Facebook.


  1. Interesting thoughts on sci-fi names, Rachel, and love how your main name came to you in a dream. Writing Viking fiction, I've had to tone down all my "Thor----" names so readers can keep my characters straight, so I know those constraints of keeping it pronounceable, yet realistic to your world. I love how you have a whole set of "rules" in place for your names, like the twin names. Sounds like an interesting book.

  2. I love how you came up with these fantastic names. Your love of all things Russian adds the this in beautifully subliminal ways. Fantastic. I can't wait to read these novels.

  3. You do have some really interesting names, Rachel. And I love your pic, btw! I hadn't seen it yet.

    Anyway, back to the alien thing, you kind of make me want to read your novel, which is really saying something since I'm not a sci-fi fan. (I was the kid cringing in horror whenever anyone suggested we watch Star Wars growing up.)

  4. YES!!! *fist pump* Mission accomplished. This is all about bringing new readers to the genre. And for me about making SF accessible to those who might be afraid of it.

  5. Great post Rachel! Welsh might be an alien language after all!

    And Tom Weston Jones? sigh.


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